Photo: AlicePopkorn

What does the concept of travel mean? It is an escape, a search, or both?

As I kid, I used to clip out the travel advertisements from the back of Smithsonian Magazine. One stifling still summer day in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, I pasted them all to pieces of computer paper.

To make it official, I bound the paper into a book, using the always-popular plastic science report cover. Those plastic sleeves held my dreams of being grown-up and free. I scorned contemporaries who believed that Chicago was the most exotic city in the world, that Lake Michigan was as good as an ocean.

Those other fifth graders were boneheads. I knew better.

Three months after I graduated from John Adams High, I left Indiana. Six months later, my dad got a new job, and my family moved as well. Someone else owns the house I grew up in.

It turns out that change is not for the faint of heart. As a child clipping out ads for holidays in Istanbul, I had no idea that the concept of home was so transient. As an adolescent, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, to be somewhere new.

Some nights, I would climb out my window and sit on the roof. I remember the scratchy grit of the porch roof tiles, the smell of hot tar and grass still lingering from the day. From there I could see the neighbors lawns, notched with squares of light from the window. Cooking smells lingered, televisions hummed, dishes clattered. Usually in the throes of one angst or another, I had no idea that I would never feel that at home again.

Shifting Concepts

When home became a non-existent entity, the concept of travel shifted drastically. Travel was no longer an escape. It was a search: I was looking for a place to call home. Rootless, I roamed the globe.

Anxiety kept me moving, and only when I left a place would I think back and say, “Gosh, that was nice.” I left behind groups of really good friends, small families. Every leaving was a tiny death.

Ant yet, the verb “to travel”, in my 21st century 20-something mind, is synonymous with the verb “to become”. For the duration of my travels, I am becoming more of who I am.

As a teen, I loved the concept of traveling. As an adult, I do still. I have come to believe that change is good (even with a little pain and remaining doubts added). Even that it is necessary. Possibly, and this is where it gets a bit dicey, that it’s imperative to my own survival.

When I returned to the states a month ago, after an extended trip abroad, I repeated this mantra to myself – “change is good, growth is good. I am becoming.” For a month, I was staying at a friend’s farm in Vermont, but I had plotted my next move long before the plane landed: New York City. It was a challenge, a bold move for a Midwesterner.

Making the Move

As I prepared to make my train reservations, I found my thoughts drifting. Surreptitiously, the bits of paper in my homemade travel book began to speak to me:

You loved passing through Hanoi, wouldn’t it be great to go back there and live? I bet you could get a job on an English language paper.

Shush. I’m moving to New York.

What about Argentina? Your Spanish is getting rusty.

New York.

Morocco?

No.

Brazil.

Hush.

All right, you asked for it. Hungary. You’ve been talking about Hungary for years.

Damn it, you have a point.

The turnover is quicker now. New York is still an unformed dream, an unlived life, and I’m already preparing to leave it. It took a moment to realize that those chatty bits of paper were not rational thoughts, but rather irrational fears.

How can I be scared to stay if I haven’t even arrived? Am I really looking for a home, or am I terrified that I may actually find one?

Irritably, I sniped out loud at my fears: “Change is great, but sometimes I just need to be!” I took a deep breath and dialed the number for Amtrak.

Has your concept of travel changed over the years? Share your thoughts below.